Lincoln's "Life Mask"

Direct Dimensions Uncovers Lincoln's True Face

Projects - Lincoln Life Mask

In July 2008, KunhardtMcGee Productions, a documentary film house based in New York, visited Direct Dimensions with a unique 3D problem. KunhardtMcGee is an inspiring production company that has worked with PBS, HBO, ABC, and other major networks to create programs that tell the stories of many of America’s most notable figures and events. They are currently in the midst of creating a film focused on the life of President Abraham Lincoln, as well as a companion book to be released in conjunction with the film.

A portion of this project involved the scanning of a “life mask,” or a casting taken of Lincoln’s head and face while he was alive. Only two castings are known to have been taken of President Lincoln during this time, and KunhardtMcGee was particularly interested in the one which was taken in 1860 by sculptor Leonard Volk. It portrays Lincoln shortly before the outbreak of the American Civil War, and also before he had grown his iconic beard. Volk’s life mask was described by fellow sculptor Avard Fairbanks as “the most reliable document of the Lincoln face, and far more valuable than photographs, for it is the actual form.” According to a quote taken at the time of casting, “when [Lincoln] saw the final bust, he was quite pleased, declaring it ‘the animal himself.’”

Representatives of KunhardtMcGee brought a bronze casting of the Volk life mask to the Direct Dimensions facility in Owings Mills, MD. They have a specific interest in comparing how Lincoln’s actual appearance fares against artistic renderings of the man, as well as the often-distorted daguerreotypes and photographic media of the mid-1800s.

In order to make this comparison, the DDI team used an 8’ FARO Platinum Arm and arm based laser scanner to digitize the mask. Data from the scan was used to create an STL file for use in an interactive 3D viewing program. Still image renderings of the mask, in specific orientations and scales, were also provided; they will allow KunhardtMcGee to directly superimpose the accurate form of the life mask against known images of the former President for comparison. A life-sized digital rendering of the life mask is also to be published in the companion book.